A proposed $300 million investment in south Bartow may have experienced a fatal blow Thursday evening, as members of the Emerson Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-1 to reject a variance request for “Project Oak” off LakePoint Parkway.
Applicant TPA Ventures, LLC sought an exemption to exceed the City of Emerson’s building height requirements. The local zoning ordinance caps the maximum height of developments at 75 feet.
Documents submitted to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs indicate an unnamed company had plans to construct a five-story, 2.6 million-gross-square-foot sorting facility on the northern campus of LakePoint Sporting Community.
Rumors have swirled that the applicant is Amazon, a company which recently announced the development of a 141,000-square-foot “last-mile” delivery station off Third Army Road in Acworth. Local officials such as Emerson City Manager Todd Heath could not confirm or deny Amazon’s interest in the LakePoint Parkway property, citing nondisclosure agreements that prevent them from publicly naming the companies or tenants behind the proposed development.
“It is a prototypical building that does not change,” said Brian West, a representative of engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates at Thursday evening’s public meeting. “We spend a lot of time trying to locate properties that are actually suitable for the size of this facility and also to handle the turning movements of the trucks coming into and out of this.”
At no point in the meeting did West mention the name of the proposed company behind the project in Emerson, although he did indicate the entity interested in the property is involved in the distribution and e-commerce sectors.
He said the company required taller facilities to accommodate automated technologies.
“Unless the height variance is issued, there’s no need to go through all that engineering to get all that started,” he said. “Because it’s pretty much dead on arrival without the height variance.”
The initial earthwork on the project, he said, would take about three months before the building itself would be pad-ready.
“This facility feeds and provides support to a number of other facilities, many of which are already up and running,” he said. “A facility like this has to be built in close proximity to other distribution ‘last mile’ facilities, things like that, so there’s very limited places they can actually go.”
West said the company looked to hire at least 800 employees “per shift” at the proposed development.
“There’s not that many 115-, 120-acre sites that are owned by one entity or maybe two or three where we put the properties together and get them zoned or rezoned,” he said. “We’ve looked at a lot of properties in and around the area and there’s not many — quite frankly, none.”
Several individuals, the majority of them residents of the Village at Waterside subdivision, spoke in opposition to the variance request.
“It’s not a question of jobs, it’s a question of location,” said Chip Wright. “Five miles up the road, you’ve got industrial parks, great places to put this facility.”
Jody Bishop, a member of the Waterside homeowners association board, also voiced his displeasure with the proposal.
“Everybody in my neighborhood’s against this,” he said.
Other speakers raised concerns about light pollution, impacts on infrastructure and increased congestion.
“There’s a lot of traffic that’ll be coming off Red Top Mountain,” said Sam Paglioni. “If this is fait accompli, hopefully the board and everybody will maybe look at one exit below us, where there’s the Love’s truck stop.”
Other residents, however, said they supported the proposed development.
“There’ll be a chance for a company to come in and hire between 1,500 and 2,000 people,” said Terry Webb. “Hearing the news about the company that wants to come here brought joy to my soul … I would be glad to see that company come in, because I have children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and it would be nice if they could get a decent job close to home.”
City of Emerson Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Bill Popham said he was worried the height variance request would set precedent for even larger developments in the community.
“If we start allowing five- and six-story buildings in our area, then that brings on more talk,” he said. “The next thing you know, somebody comes over here by the new bypass road and they want to build a facility and they want 10 stories.”
He said he would love to see industries and jobs come to Emerson, especially with so many individuals currently out of work.
“But you have to look at the long-term effect of what happens,” he said. “When you get wild and start building things higher than what we can control, then we’ve got a problem. I feel like we need to look at this from a standpoint of safety and what we want to see in this area in coming years.”
Jaretta Shaw served as the lone vote in support of granting the applicant the height variance. By nixing that request, she contended that the City may have squandered an enormous economic opportunity.
“Let’s face it, $15, $16, $17 an hour is not a living wage, not even here,” she said. “We don’t have apartments, we don’t have affordable housing and the City just can’t give us everything … what we just did was stop the City of Emerson from having a whole lot of money.”
Still, Popham said he believes the property will not remain vacant land for long.
“You’re fooling yourself if you think that Rimrock out of California is going to sit here and lose money in Emerson,” he said, citing the hedge fund manager that took over LakePoint Sporting Community several years ago. “Somebody is going to come in here and want to build something on that property — that’s one reason why we’re worried about ‘mixed use,’ ‘mixed use’ right now can let them do whatever they want to. We want to get a hold of that so they can build what the City, the people in this town, want.”
Following the vote, Heath said “Project Oak” isn’t officially dead in the water — but he also noted that the commission's decision does place far greater restrictions on what kind of development may be constructed on the property.
“I think with the developer proposing a five-story building, to, I suppose, spread that out, maybe reduce the height and increase the square footage, possibly,” he said. “But based on the developer’s representative, his response, I think they probably won’t seek to build it.”
Heath noted that the applicant does have the ability to appeal the planning and zoning commission’s decision.
If the applicant chooses to do so, the matter would head to the Emerson City Council, where the previous decision on the height variance request could be overturned.
“It would be as if it was approved,” Heath said.
At this point, he said it’s too early to tell if the applicant will seek an appeal.
“I haven’t heard that from the applicant, I don’t think they had considered it,” he said. “But I’m sure they’ll reach out and request or ask.”